Cook | JCC preschool rescues camp dinner for 40 when chef calls in sick

There are many great things about being part of a JCC preschool community, and schoolwide camping trips are one of them. When the annual trip is announced, I make a running dash to sign up for camp dinner chef before anyone else can claim the slot.

Intricate planning is involved. Lists. Shopping. Prep work. This year, all went according to plan until I woke up ill on the day of the trip. With the room spinning, dinner for 40 in my fridge, a husband visiting his father in New Mexico, my 5-year-old suggested brightly that since I couldn’t get out of bed, one of her friends’ dads could take her camping. I heeded her advice and began calling other parents.

Within a few hours, one of the dads did indeed zip over, transported four loads of ingredients from my house to his car and took my daughter along, too. This is what I love about our Jewish community. No matter how big your city, the individual centers and gathering places where we care for our children and ourselves become home.

I wasn’t worried about my child that weekend, but the meal haunted me. What if the marinade was too acidic? What if the seasoned rice was too bland? What if the avocados fell out of the car?

None of these things happened. The truth is, a strong community doesn’t depend on any one person, and neither does a great meal.


Mexican Rice

Serves 8-10

1 1/2 Tbs. olive or corn oil

1 1/2 cups long-grain rice

1/2 cup red onion, diced

1 tsp. garlic, minced

2 cups water

14 1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes

1 Tbs. tomato paste

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. minced chipotle peppers (optional)

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add rice and stir to toast, about 30 seconds. Add onions and sauté over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add garlic, stir. Add water, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, salt and chipotle, if using. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the rice is cooked, 16-18 minutes.


Martha Stewart’s Classic Avocado Mango Salsa

Makes 3 cups

1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and diced

1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced

1 cup red onion, diced small

1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1/2 habañero chile or jalapeño  pepper, stem and seeds removed, minced (optional)

2 Tbs. fresh lime juice

1 Tbs. olive oil

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Serve.


Cumin-Lime Chicken

Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (tenders removed)

1⁄3 cup lime juice

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tbs. minced garlic

1 tsp. cumin

1 Tbs. zatar spice blend

1 tsp. salt

plenty of fresh ground black pepper

Put chicken in a sealable plastic bag or large glass container with lid. Add lime juice, olive oil, garlic, cumin and zatar. Seal and massage meat to distribute seasonings. Marinate 30 minutes to overnight. When ready to cook, remove chicken from marinade and sprinkle evenly on both sides with salt and pepper.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Grill 6-8 minutes per side until cooked through. Or cook on grill pan or in skillet over medium heat, uncovered for 6 minutes, and then flip and cook covered for an additional 6-10 minutes, depending on thickness. Grill or cook tenders separately, 3-4 minutes per side.

Josie A.G. Shapiro won the 2013 Man-O Manischewitz Cook-Off, is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet” and works at the JCC of San Francisco. Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Her website is

Josie A.G. Shapiro

Josie A.G. Shapiro won the 2013 Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff and is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet.”